This past weekend was filled with the sorts of moments that leave a life-long mark on one’s soul. My ordination as a priest into the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches and the Order of St. Anthony was the culmination of more that 15 years of journeying deeper into the life of God and his Church. I felt a unique and deep sensitivity to that mysterious “cloud of witnesses” as I was welcomed into apostolic succession…the faces of Bishop Veron Ashe, Reverend Paul Mathiesen, and Jack O’Rourke came to mind. My ordination on Saturday was followed-up with an “installation” as an “ambassador priest” here at Salem Tabernacle, and it was in that Sunday night service that my Bishop, Ed Gungor, placed a collar on my neck. The value of that collar as a sign and symbol to me and our church was explained. My calling to expose people to the riches of the broader, historic Church and to work for the unity of that very Church (John 17) was also made quite clear.
I understand that these events in particular, and this journey in general, is bound to raise meaningful questions, and I’d like to engage some of them in this format (despite its limitations). Over the course of this year, I’ve come to embrace the value of questions as opportunities to not only come to a better understanding of truth, but to grow closer to the people asking those questions. So…here’s one question that has come up: “What do I tell my (Pentecostal, evangelical, “low-church”) family members when they hear about your ordination or come to a service and see you wearing a collar?”
I want to provide a “lowest common denominator” sort of answer to this, all the while acknowledging that it is more complex than what I’m about to say. Ultimately I’m wearing a clerical collar because after months of prayer and conversations, I have a very strong and clear sense that this is what the Holy Spirit wants me to do. More specifically, after 22 years of doing ministry independently, the Lord used existing relationships to connect me to a communion of churches, and right now, being faithful to that connection looks like a collar. This is simply a matter of me submitting to the Holy Spirit and being accountable to the people he has put in my life. I wear a collar because I want to be led by the Spirit and accountable in ministry. The collar reminds me that my life is not my own, that my calling is to serve Christ’s church in a unique but profoundly humble way – it is never to be a symbol or marker of spiritual elitism!
As a sort of “PS” to this, I would add that collars are originally a Protestant, not Roman Catholic phenomenon, and it’s only in the last 50 years that RC priests started wearing the collar. Also, many historic churches within our great Pentecostal tradition wear collars and vestments (e.g. the Church of God in Christ).
One more question: “What do I tell my kids if they ask why you’re dressed funny?” We need to be thoughtful and intentional when our kids ask us these sorts of questions, being mindful that our tone and body language will say as much or more than our words. This is a reasonable, good question and it ironically typifies the value of the collar! I’d recommend a parent of young a child answer this question within that child’s context. So it’s probably smart to ask them to describe what a doctor wears, what a policeman wears and what a firefighter wears (especially if you have any family members that work in these sorts of jobs). You want to establish that it’s normal for people who do certain sorts of jobs to dress in unusual ways that make their role clear to everyone. Most kids will get this idea easily. Then tell them that “Pastor has started wearing a sort of uniform – like a fireman – that reminds us and him what his job is.” You could even tie this into how you’ve (hopefully) taught your kids that if they’re in trouble and see a man or woman in a police uniform, they should go to that person for help and safety – simply because they’re wearing those odd clothes (i.e. a uniform).
I’ve already had an uncomfortable conversation with an extended family member about my ordination, so I can relate to the awkwardness of this whole thing. I honestly feel like I made the mistake of saying too much…TMI! I should have been more sensitive to the fears and concerns of that person and kept things as simple as possible, not in an effort to cover things up, but simply as a recognition that just because something is true, does not mean it needs to be said. Not everyone is in the place where they can lovingly and thoughtfully engage ideas that challenge the status quo. My prayer is that we’ll all remember that there’s nothing wrong with this – coming from either side – but that we’ll be prepared to engage people’s questions thoughtfully, with love and respect.